Musician Spotlight: Drew Anton

One of the things that makes music such a special and universal thing is its ability to connect us and draw out the most intense, raw emotions within us. Indie musician Drew Anton’s music embodies this. With his focus on truth and meaning, Drew’s music explores love and loss with a raw. refreshing honesty that many can find relatable.

I was lucky to meet Drew and be exposed to his music while in college. We were both members of our college Honors Program, and as such I found myself sharing numerous classes with him. As a music production major, Drew became a master at writing and producing his own original songs. While his music can best be described as indie-pop, Drew’s music doesn’t need a genre to convey a message. Regardless of whether it’s a piano ballad, spoken word, or a remix of Morgan Freeman’s voice, Drew’s music is bound to evoke every possible emotion from listeners.

Drew released two EPs earlier this year, each with a different theme and feel; Perfect Stranger is a cathartic expression of heartbreak, while Somewhere Between Brooklyn & Heaven is a tribute to one of the most important love stories in Drew’s life. And Drew’s not slowing down any time soon; his next EP, Back To Me, has just been announced this week, as I was editing this article!

I recently interviewed Drew to learn more about his music. We discussed his musical journey, the difficulties and rewards of writing from personal experience, defying genre, and the art of preserving stories and sharing personal truths. Check out the interview below to learn about Drew and his music in his own words:

A portrait of Drew Anton
© Drew Anton, Instagram

Can you describe your musical journey? What was your first exposure to music, and when did you start creating your own?

As a lot of children do, I grew up watching sing-along VHS tapes and listened to music on cassette player tapes, which were my first conscious experiences of listening to music. During my early schooling, I was very involved with school productions and music/choir classes, which I remember always loving. I honestly remember being bored when we were taught elementary music theory, like what different musical notes were called, how to count beats, etc. It’s kind of ironic that those lessons would be so important to me even now, fifteen years later. Besides listening to music on my iPod as a middle schooler, I started playing guitar at the age of thirteen, and began recording little instrumental songs I would make in my basement on an old computer using a tiny cheap microphone. It worked for me at the time as an early introduction to recording. I was also super emotional, as most eighth-graders are, and was super into writing poetry about my feelings and stories my friends would tell me about, which was the beginning of what would become my interest in songwriting. It really helped me get through the challenges of that time, especially during early high school. I later joined marching band and choir during my senior year of high school, which encouraged me to branch out instrumentally vocally, with piano, percussion, and other instruments. I knew at that point I wanted to pursue music production and songwriting in college and as a future career. During college, I wrote more music, learned a lot about production, and after working on many projects, both educational and personal, I continued and still continue to put out as much music as possible.

How would you describe your musical style?

I always struggled with this idea of what I would label my music as. Genre isn’t quite “dead” yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will be completely, but a lot of artists are experimenting all of the time sonically, which I think is really cool and brave. Some fans become absorbed in what they expect an artist “should” sound like, based on their discography so far, so it really is brave to me for an artist to try new sounds. Personally, I have always felt like I gravitated towards an indie, alternative, “weird” pop kind-of sound. I’m still not sure exactly how to describe my music in terms of a genre, but I like being able to just make music that feels natural to me without trying to label it, per say. However, I can say, I focus a lot on writing deep, introspective lyrics, because truth and meaning are really vital to me as a songwriter.

I love that perspective, of focusing your music more on truth than on genre. You studied music production while we were in college; what inspired you to pursue music as a major and a career?

Like I briefly mentioned before, my senior year of high school really helped direct my focus and passion to pursue music. I was in choir, marching band, and AP music theory at the time, as well as an indoor percussion ensemble, so I was constantly surrounded by different music, instruments, styles, people, sounds, technology…really just the whole deal. My music teachers were always really encouraging, and after explaining my interests in writing, playing, and recording music, they offered advice and helped me decide that majoring in music production would be an opportunity for me to explore those interests further.

Who/what is your musical inspiration? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I guess it really depends on the time and place in my life that I am writing from. Mostly, I’m writing from personal experience about things that happen to me. The music can be inspired by sad times, happy times, feeling empowered, feeling angry, scared, broken…really just an effort to put a different kind of expression to emotional experiences, no matter how difficult it can be. Sometimes I will write from the perspective of other people too, which is always a fun challenge, and feels very much like storytelling to me. I think my life is kind of boring to talk about, so I hope people aren’t disinterested in what I would like to say through my music. So far, a lot of people have been really supportive, so I am endlessly thankful for that.

Your music definitely has a strong storytelling element to it. Speaking of your music, you recently released two EPs: Perfect Stranger and Somewhere Between Brooklyn and Heaven. On your Bandcamp profile, you describe Perfect Stranger as an EP that represents the “raw emotions” caused by losing someone, while Somewhere Between Brooklyn and Heaven is dedicated to your grandparents and their love story. Can you talk about your inspiration behind both of these EPs and how they came to be?

Definitely! Perfect Stranger, without going into too much detail, was inspired by a close friendship that was deteriorating. It was one of the most dark, emotional, and devastating times for me, and had already lasted about three or four months, from the end of 2018 into the beginning of 2019. 2018 was really hard for me for other reasons, but this became the cherry on top of the physical and emotional challenges I was facing. I really felt like I lost control and the ability to save the friendship, so at my most desperate time, I began writing and the whole EP was written and recorded within one month. I really didn’t hold back lyrically, and everything came straight from my own heartache and experiences with this person, which is why I described it as having “raw emotions.” On the contrary, Somewhere Between Brooklyn and Heaven was inspired by love. I wanted to talk about love after purging all of that darkness and pain that was in Perfect Stranger.

These EPs both came out in 2019, with less than two months between them; Perfect Stranger came out in March while SBB&H came out in May. The EPs also seem to be foils of each other; Perfect Stranger is a very somber album, while SBB&H is very warm and filled with love. Was this intentional? Did you plan to release two albums that would complement each other very well close together?

© Drew Anton, Instagram

I’m glad someone noticed! [laughs] I definitely did this intentionally. The timing between the two EPs didn’t have any correlation with each other. I was enjoying the thrill and metaphorical “high” of releasing Perfect Stranger and all of the positivity and support I was receiving from it, so I knew I wanted to start another project immediately. Like I just mentioned, I wanted the theme of the new EP to completely contrast that of Perfect Stranger, which was overall dark…even the album art was, too. I was experimenting with different ideas and songs I started writing about love, and after thinking about what really conveyed love and light to me, I thought of my grandparents. That’s how SBB&H came to be. Even though the songs weren’t about me, I wrote them from and about the perspective of my grandparents. I was still struggling to feel love after the events of Perfect Stranger, so it was easier for me to draw inspiration from the true love my grandparents share. They’re so cute, so I just had to! I released it on their wedding anniversary too, which is why SBB&H came out not too long after the previous EP.

That’s so sweet! What an amazing way to celebrate your grandparents and their love. What is your favorite song from each album and why?

Every parent will deny that they have a favorite child, but they all secretly do. I love all of my music, but there are certain songs that have a deeper meaning and connection to me. From Perfect Stranger, I would say my favorite song is track two, which is called “sitting on the floor, staring at the wall.” It was really challenging for me to write, because it is a very honest and confrontational song. It was my first song where I was publicly talking to and about someone, and not in a positive and uplifting way. I didn’t want to expose somebody, but I wanted to speak my mind. After I finished it, I felt empowered…like I got my voice back. I was very happy and proud that I wrote and released it, despite the fear of any reactions I would get. My favorite song from SBB&H would probably be track two again, which is titled “Candy Man.” I really had fun writing this song! I combined my own music and lyrics with some of the lyrics from the song “The Candy Man,” by Sammy Davis Jr., and I fell in love with the overall sound and production.

Your ability to speak your truth in your music makes you a very strong songwriter. My next question actually relates to “sitting on the floor, staring at the wall.” In the song “perfect stranger,” I really like how the titles of the previous songs on the EP (“I guess I was never someone you’d ever need” and “sitting on the floor, staring at the wall”) reappear as lyrics: “I used to sit on the floor and stare at the wall / I remember when you made me happy, but / I guess I was never someone you’d ever need.” Can you describe your songwriting process, for the Perfect Stranger EP and your music in general?

© Drew Anton, Instagram

Thank you for the compliment, I really appreciate that. So kind! Since the title track was the last track of the EP, not including the bonus track, I wanted to summarize the EP in one song. That’s why the other song titles appeared as lyrics in the song “perfect stranger.” Overall, my songwriting process for that EP was very natural. I was experiencing such a difficult and painful time, so certain things like photos, text messages, and memories all contributed to the songs and their foundations. I finally felt pushed over the edge, so those songs emerged from me so easily. It really was the quickest and easiest time I have ever had writing songs. With my general songwriting, I always try to only write when I’m inspired by something. I hate trying to force lyrics out of myself…it never feels natural and I’m never as satisfied as I would be with something that was meaningful and inspired. In terms of the actual writing process, it varies. Sometimes I’ll start with just a lyrical idea and then I’ll sit at the piano, guitar, ukulele, or my recording program with sound patches and play around with chords that seem to naturally fit what I’m writing about. Other times, it will happen the other way around, with the music first, and then lyrics. Sometimes, both will happen at the same time. It really depends!

I have to give the credit for this question to the music blog A Lonely Ghost Burning; I really like it because I think it provides a lot of insight into musicians, so I have to ask it. Is there a certain environment or mood you tend to be in when you write your music?

I would say I get into a very emotional/introspective mood when I write my music. I feel very free. I like to be in private when I write because it’s always a very personal experience for me. Although I don’t have any reasons to be embarrassed, I like to be alone so other people don’t hear what I’m singing about…not yet anyway. Sometime I get a bit emotional too, so I like to have the security of just being in the moment alone with an instrument, my voice, and my feelings.

I love all your songs on both of these EPs, but I’ve got to say that one that stood out to me was “Favorite Things” on SBB&H. I’m guessing it’s a voice recording of your grandparents, talking about their favorite things about each other, with a piano overlay. It’s very sweet and pure, a perfect tribute to love. It reminds me of oral history projects; projects that involve interviewing and recording people as they tell their stories in order to preserve their stories forever. What was the process of creating this song? How did you come up with the idea, and obtain the audio? Did you keep the reason for the audio a secret from your grandparents?

Thank you so much! It is indeed my grandparents talking. I didn’t tell them I was doing this EP since it was a surprise for them, so to obtain their voices on record, I pulled them each aside separately and told them I wanted to record a project, and that I needed them to tell me their favorite things about each other. I love the idea of incorporating voicemails and “real-life” audio into songs, which I had done once before in my very first EP I made in college, called Iridescence. I used a voicemail from my Nana in a song about her passing, called “Don’t Forget to Eat,” so it felt fitting to have another voice recording of my other grandparents in this song for this project. I feel like I’ll always have a piece of all of them now, even when they are no longer here. After I recorded their separate voice files on my phone, I dropped the audio files into an empty Logic project, and built the piano and ambient guitar around them. The instrumental composition kind of created itself in the moment, as I just sat there and listened to what my grandparents were saying about each other. Just like the music in that song, I think that’s how true love works, too. It just happens on its own.

What were your grandparents’ reactions when you showed them the EP?

I had released it online and texted them and told them about the project. I emailed them the audio files, as well as the artwork and lyrics. A few hours later, my grandma called me on the phone and was very excited and happy and touched. She said that she and my pop-pop really loved the songs and that it meant a lot to them. My grandma made a joke and said she had a criticism about one of the lyrics in the title track “Somewhere Between Brooklyn & Heaven,” where I write that she was “four foot nine” as a seventeen-year-old. I laughed and apologized, explaining that it had to rhyme with the previous lyric in the line right before it. Sometimes you have to bend the truth a little to rhyme. #songwriterproblems

Along the lines of how you create your music, I’ve also noticed that you have a few songs where you take voice recordings and remix them. “Favorite Things” is an example, and so is “some birds aren’t meant to be caged” on Perfect Stranger, where you use Morgan Freeman’s voice, and your single “Life Moves Pretty Fast,” where you remix audio from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Flashdance, and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Can you talk about how you were inspired to create these remixes, and where the idea to create such remixes came from?

So, the track I made called “Life Moves Pretty Fast” is a project I made in my secondary level electronic and computer music [class] during my senior year of college. We were tasked with creating a song that used samples in a specific style of music, so I chose an 80s-esque sound. That’s how I chose to use the “Time After Time” sample and the audio from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Although that was just a project for class, like others I have made prior, sampling can be fun and is a creative way to add musical and lyrical references to your own songs. I had that class project in mind when I created “some birds aren’t meant to be caged.” The line from the film that I incorporated perfectly described what I was saying and feeling thematically in Perfect Stranger in a metaphoric way, so I ended up creating a musical track with it, and added it as a bonus track.

What do you want your listeners to take away from your music?

I just want people to feel something when they listen to my music. Listening experiences vary from person to person, and so does meaning, so it overjoys me when people tell me that they connect with one of my songs. I’ve seen people cry in front of me…even rooms full of people, when they hear my music. It’s the weirdest thing, but also the most amazing thing, and there is no other feeling like it. I never thought I could have that kind of impact. I just feel super blessed that people are willing to listen to what I have to say, and for all of the kindness, love, and support they have shared with me. I hope people will see my heart and honesty through my music and will connect with me.

What is your current musical obsession?

Hmm, for the past few months, I’ve been obsessed with the album portraits by Greyson Chance. He was that young kid on Ellen years and years ago who performed a cover of “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga, which went viral. He came back this year with this album, and I just love the songwriting and production. He is really talented, vocally and lyrically. I’ve also been obsessed with Inner Monologue Part 1 and Part 2 by Julia Michaels. She’s such a talented songwriter. I’m really inspired by both of them as artists and songwriters. I love their transparency and vulnerability. It’s challenging to be so public about it when you share music like that, but it’s also very rewarding and freeing. I also love The Veronicas…I think everyone in my life knows that. [laughs] I love everything by them. I’m really excited for their new untitled album coming later this year!

This next question is another question I took from A Lonely Ghost Burning, but I think it’s such a good one: What makes you smile?

Food. Definitely food. But honestly, being with my friends makes me so happy. I usually can’t stop smiling when I’m with them. I value my friends so much, and I’m really thankful to have them in my life. My chinchilla and parrot also make me smile. And cute dogs. Definitely cute dogs. I guess I should say music makes me smile too! [laughs]

What’s next for you; do you have any future projects in mind or in the works?

I’m always working on some kind of music whenever I have time, even if it’s just random lyrical bits here and there, or a cover of some sort. Yesterday, I started recording my next EP that I began writing not too long ago, so I’m really excited to see how it will evolve. I think it will embody all of the experiences and feelings I have been through and felt recently and where I am now. I guess we’ll see!

Drew’s music can be found on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. You can also check him out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And be sure to be on the lookout for his newest EP, Back to Me, available for pre-order on Bandcamp!

This article first appeared on the Wix site.

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